Marrone fills veteran role to rookie QBs

Early in his tenure as Buffalo Bills head coach, Doug Marrone appears unafraid of making history.

He is set to enter the regular season with just two quarterbacks -- both rookies in Jeff Tuel and EJ Manuel -- on his active roster, something no team has done since at least the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

And if Tuel, an undrafted rookie, starts on Sunday against the New England Patriots, it will be the first time that has happened since at least 1967.

The conventional thinking across the NFL is that having a rookie quarterback, nevermind two, requires having another, graybeard quarterback in the locker room, in the meeting room, and on the sideline. He is a tutor; a steadying influence.

The Bills don't have such a veteran on their roster, nor do they have a seasoned NFL coach at the position. Nathaniel Hackett, 33, is the second-youngest offensive coordinator in the NFL. His last stint in the NFL came as a quality control coach with the Bills in 2009.

But to Marrone, having experience is a luxury. Sometimes, you have to work around it.

"I look at it this way. At any position where you have someone who has a lot of experience and is a veteran can definitely help," Marrone said Monday. "If you have veterans at a position it’s kind of like an extra. It’s a benefit. You feel great about it. They’re going to be able to help."

In this case, Marrone says the duty of keeping Manuel and Tuel on track falls to him. The 49-year old had a brief NFL stint as a player in the late 1980s, and later held offensive coaching positions with the New York Jets and New Orleans Saints.

"If you don’t have that (veteran), then it has to come from someone else. With the quarterback position that comes from me on game day," Marrone said. "I’ll grab them, talk to them. I’ll do those things; I’ll take care of it."

Marrone's close involvement with his rookie quarterbacks is evident during practices when he crouches down to snap the football during drills. It's a role that ball boys, not head coaches, typically fill.

And if nothing else, that gives Marrone some credibility when he voices confidence in his quarterbacks.

"I think it’s very difficult, if someone is reading it or hearing it and they’ve not been around those two people they might say, 'He’s crazy,'" Marrone said. "I think that if you’ve been around them and watched them, you’d say these two guys look pretty darn good."